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Monday, 20 June 2016 21:14

Sparta, NJ Shop Owner Retires After 44 Years

Sparta NJ Father and Son

Father and son, Carmen Scro, Sr. and Carmen Scro, Jr., in the auto body shop, 1976.
Credit: The Sparta Independent

On June 1, Carl’s Auto Body on West Shore Trail closed its doors after doing business in Sparta for 44 years.

The reason was not lack of customers. Simply, the proprietor, Carmen Scro, Jr., decided to retire.

“It’s time,” said the soft-spoken Scro, 71, who brought the business from East Orange to Sparta with his father, Carmen Scro, Sr., in 1972.

“It was a great move. The timing was right. More and more people were moving here,” Scro said. “And the place was beautiful. Lake Mohawk, I used to see the sign when we passed on Route 15. But when I actually saw Lake Mohawk – it captures you the first time you see it.”

The business soon became a success at its picturesque lakeside location. Scro did not hesitate to say why.

“It was my Dad. He made the business. He was industrious. He was innovative. He often made his own tools for particular jobs. And he had integrity. He was honest. He had a reputation for being honest. We have had many return customers. I have tried to follow in his footsteps.”

Long-time friend, business neighbor and return customer Patty Gozdenovich said that Carmen Jr. has earned an equally commendable reputation.

“He has integrity,” Gozdenovich said. “People trust him and love him. He is trustworthy.”

Gozdenovich, the proprietor of Pattycakes Bake Shop at White Deer Plaza on Lake Mohawk, agreed that auto body repairmen, in general, cannot always claim so sterling a reputation. But Scro can.

“He’s an honest men, absolutely,” she said. “And he has run an excellent and honest business. My father went to him and praised his work and his character. And my mother used him, and my sister and brother and many, many other people.”

Gozdenovich said that, since people learned of his impending retirement, they’ve been stopping Scro on the street to give good wishes but also to lament the end of an era.

“People go up to him and say ‘You can’t retire.’ I’ve heard it from a lot of people,” Gozdenovich said.

Pat Scro, Carmen’s wife, has been hearing the same thing.

“’You can’t retire. What will we do now?’” She smiled. “Of course, he can retire, and is retiring. People just love him because he’s good at his work and he treats them fairly.”

Scro has seen the auto body business change dramatically over the years.

“It’s a different business now,” he said. “The technology has improved and that’s great. But it also drives the price up because companies sell people on getting every new gadget. Every option then becomes its own nightmare from a repair point of view. So many options and variables, and they are often strangely interconnected. It complicates things immensely.”

Another major factor in modern auto body repair is modern auto insurance.

“The insurance companies have taken such a hold,” he said. “They tell you where to buy parts, what to pay for them, whether to use new or used parts.”

The shop-created tools of his father’s era, as well as many of the “tricks of the trade” no longer apply.

“People tell me that we auto body men no longer do repairs, but just replace parts. That’s true, but that’s not because of us,” Scro said.

Scro genuinely likes people and the feeling is not just superficial. He was in the Army Reserves during the Vietnam conflict and said he was lucky to not have seen combat.

“People get affected by war, no matter which side they are on. It does something to their mind, affects the rest of their lives and their families,” he said. “And it’s always the little guys who go to the wars that the big guys start. And the other side, the enemy, they are people with families, too. It’s a terrible thing, war is, and it destroys a lot of beautiful buildings, too, buildings that cannot be replaced.”

Now that they have the time, the Scros plan to take small trips around the country. Carmen also paints in oils, mostly still life and landscapes.

“It’s wonderful. You get in a zone. It’s very therapeutic,” he said.

“He won’t admit it,” Pat Scro added. “But he’s also a good painter.”

Scro said that he was not looking to have a story written about him and his career. But he did have a reason for wanting a public forum.

“I want to thank all the people who have come to me over the years. They’ve been marvelous. We have had great conversations, both serious talk and laughter. I truly feel like I have been blest, getting to know all these good people. My biggest thrill is that I have been able to be in business here in Sparta for 44 years. Thank you to everyone. I wish everyone the very best.”

Carmen Scro is retired. Carl’s Auto Body is now closed. But the story is not yet over. Carmen’s nephew, Steven Scro, founder and owner of the Mohawk House restaurant on Sparta Avenue, has plans for the lakefront site of the repair shop.

“It’s my uncle’s wish to do homage to the people of Sparta,” Steven Scro said. “And we are going to do that in several ways. On July 3, we are going to host a pet adoption day with O.S.C.A.R. of Sparta, the animal rescue people. We also have something in the works for the area’s farmers.”

And the younger Scro, who worked in the shop in years past and knows the place intimately, plans to refurbish the two buildings on the site.

“When houses were first going up on Lake Mohawk, the buildings that became the auto body shop were a mill and a lumber storehouse for the builders constructing the lake-style homes,” Steven Scro said. “I am going to restore these buildings as much as possible, doing justice to the historic site. We’re going to bring them back on a grand scale, like the Mohawk House.”

Steven Scro did not specify what use the refurbished structures may have, but promised it would be something that brings honor to his family, the community and the site.

“My uncle is a role model,” Seven Scro said. “He and my grandfather taught me that success isn’t measured by how much you line your pockets, but by how you feel about yourself and how much you help others. I hope to continue the honesty, the integrity and the pride in work that my uncle displayed throughout his career.”

We would like to thank The Sparta Independent for reprint permission.

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